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‘They Had Forgotten Her’
You Can’t Win by Jack Black


1926, reading from pages 33-55 of the 2000 AK Press edition, 279 pages,

You Can’t Win is a counter culture classic which echoes much of the dystopian view of Industrial America found in the works of Jack London and Ernest Hemmingway and the contemporaneous autobiography of Carl Panzram. In terms of its value to a study of Plantation America, this book has four aspects:

-1. Pages 1-32 graphically illustrates the burden children were to poor parents of the late 19th century and the extremely high level of sympathy with which the common boy had for outlaws such as the James Younger Gang, which were continuing the American Civil War as bandits. There is much compassion for and little predation upon young Johnny by the working class and criminal folk, a theme found in all slave narratives, with the government official and the soul trafficker being the malefic force in childhood with the parent very often an ally of the forces of evil.

-2. Pages 56-101 are Johnny’s criminal vison quest as he teams up with hobos and criminals in a bid for survival outside the system.

-3. The balance of the book recounts how the criminal outsiders form an underworld of codependence within the corrupt system, becoming an aspect of the corruption and also serving to keep alive the plantation system that has devolved into penitentiaries, jails and prison farms, which is exactly how Plantation America began, as a scheme for exploiting the labor of criminals. The brutalities related are simple holdovers from military, civic and Christian punishments from late medieval-early modern England.

Johnny [as he was called as a boy] relates from memory [probably to a female ghost writer from his hospital bed] his first vision of a jail, not a prison, but a simple holding facility:

“…the inferno inside—the big negro swinging his ladle above the snarling, cursing horde of half-starved prisoners in the stinking bowels of the city prison.”

-4. Thus dawns the strange case of a boy, a young teen not yet sexually mature and apparently destined to either celibacy or discreet submissive homosexuality, serving as a milk man’s collector, beings sent to Miss Kate Singleton’s whore house to collect a $2 bill. While there the brothel is raided and all are arrested except for the negro servant woman who enjoys a supra-free status in the Midwestern slave matrix that Black recounts. It turns out that one of the whores stole some money from a customer. This results in the whores going home free, two drunks being imprisoned for being drunk and Johnny being imprisoned for being free. The detective says, “Vag him,” and he is taken into the hideous scene described above, from which some decent criminals advocate for him and get him set free.

Johnny then is befriended by the thieving whore, who explains how she and the other girls are slaves, being held by Miss Kate for debts incurred trying to put clothes on their back. The streets were not safe for a woman without heavy clothes and an escort, much like modern day Islamic no-go zones in Europe. Once a girl was kicked out by parents, or by a hospital after her husband or lover abandoned her in pregnancy in her shift, she was fair game for rape of all sorts and had to seek sanctuary in a brothel, where the clothes and food were priced so high that she would never be able to fuck her way out of debt and must remain a slave until her charms were erased and she was cast out in her former condition to rot in the gutters as a fucked-out crone. This girl’s dream was to work at a job and have a man walk her back and forth to work and Johnny facilitated this until the law sided with sex slavery and put him out of his innocent escort business where he tried being a boy hero for a young woman.

The term Vag meant vagrant, which comes from vagabond, which is a term denoting a person who is a criminal because they are not bound to a master. Vagrancy laws today are descended from the hallowed Anglo-Saxon tradition that no man may be free, but must have a master. Our police and laws are still organized and written to criminalize failure to pay rent, with homelessness actually illegal in most municipalities. Even more pertinent is the fact that debt slavery remains the hallowed precinct of our economic consciousness, an abject conscience that exceeds notions of nationality, race and religion to form a Faith which has surpassed Christianity and Islam in terms of the vast number of that identify not with their Creator but with their Creditor.

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Thanks to Banjo for the gift of this fine book.

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